Historic Hotel Sparks Budget Banter at Bryan Council Meeting

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The LaSalle Hotel has done for the City of Bryan what city officials hoped it would do: be a significant anchor in the plan to revitilize the historic downtown.

Now, for the first time, city staff brought news to the city council that the LaSalle had 50 percent occupancy in the last quarter. Plus, over the last five years, the hotel's operating costs were in the black.

What's in the red is the debt. Deputy City Manager Joey Dunn told the Bryan city council Tuesday that the unpaid principal balance on the LaSalle since its reopening in 2000 stands at $2.63 million.

The goal for the city continues to be to draw visitors to the historic landmark.

"We want the public to know that we're open for business," Dunn said. "Come to Downtown Bryan and stay at the hotel."

With a 10-year lockout in place, the city isn't eligible for early debt repayment until 2009. At that time, the city can pay off the debt, continue to try and make it up by filling rooms and holding events or even sell the hotel.

Mayor Mark Conlee says if it wasn't for LaSalle or the Carnegie Library, Downtown Bryan wouldn't be what it is and what it's becoming.

"Those are huge assets for the city," Conlee said. "We need to maintain those assets in good working order to draw people downtown."

Councilman Mike Southerland argued that the city and the hotel's operators haven't made it a priority to make money at LaSalle, and that while it's a big part of the downtown buildup, it doesn't have to be a loss. That led to an exchange between a trio of councilmembers.

"I just think we need to set our sights on breaking even," Southerland argued.

"Mike, can I ask you a question," Mayor Conlee asked. "Where'd you see that goal stated that it was supposed to lose money? I never got that info. Where'd you see that?"

"All you have to do is read that report and it shows that they're scheduled to lose $100,000," Southerland replied.

"That's the projections of budgets," Councilman Ben Hardeman added. That's not a goal."

"Nobody says it was ever a goal to lose money," Conlee said.

Where the council agreed was that the LaSalle has played a pivotal role in downtown development. The role it plays in the future remains to be seen.

Lane Hospitality is the current operator the facility, and Dunn said they are making strides in promoting LaSalle as not only a good place to stay, but also a suitable spot for meetings and get-togethers.

Dunn also reported to the council that it requires a 35 percent occupancy at the LaSalle for the city to break even on operation costs. At 50 percent occupancy, the hotel would break even overall.